Neither Ricardo or Barthez are amongst the technical elite of the game, but have both got the job done both in this World Cup and previous tournaments. Both are strong shot stoppers but are susceptible on crosses and do not command the area like a Buffon or Lehmann for instance.
However, both are determined and gritty characters who appear to have a desire and will to win that makes up for their other shortcomings. One factor in this could be Ricardo's strength in penalty shoot-outs.
France have a strong central pairing in the experienced Lilian Thuram, who is partnered by William Gallas, but lack a little at either side with the old and young pairing of Sagnol and Abidal. Abidal in particular has not overly impressed and could be a target for either Ronaldo or Figo.
England did not create a great deal against Portugal in the quarter-final but that is not a huge indication of their defensive capabilities. At times, Holland got in behind them and could have made more of the chances they had. France will be confident of enjoying a degree of success against them.
The area where this game will be won and lost. France have come to life in the past two games with Vieira and Zidane re-ignited, whilst Franck Ribery has announced himself on the tournament.
Portugal face late fitnes checks on Figo and Ronaldo, and if they fail to make the line-up will be a big loss. The see the return of Deco and Costinha to set up some interesting little battles in this area with Makelele looking to counter Deco and Costinha coming up against Zidane.
A crucial area but I think France hold a slight upper hand.
Both sides will likely go in with one lone striker to start with. Henry has three goals and could sense a shot at the golden boot whilst Pauletta is dangerous in his own right. In reserve, France have the greater depth with Trezeguet, Wiltord and Govou in the wings.
With the greater of influence of Zidane against Brazil, Henry looked more capable and he will cause problems for the Portuguese.
Raymond Domenech was under fire at the outset of the tournament (and indeed at the group stages), but appears to have galvanised a previously dis-united side behind him into a set of players willing to fight. Tactically though, he doesn't cut it amongst the elite.
Phil Scolari is a clever, clever manager and England will rue missing out on him. A motivator, who is also tactically shrewd, he is building a siege mentality amongst the squad. Portugal are less talented a side than France but Scolari will endeavour to squeeze everything out of them.
As mentioned above, the 'us against them' attitude could work well for Portugal and they take on the role of the underdog in thsi contest.
France though are seemingly carrying the hopes of all those who want to see Zidane go out in style and have built momentum up like no other side have been able to do.
Whilst Portugal are a clever side who will get the most of their talents, France have come into form at the right moment with their big players taking centre stage. It won't match the Italy v Germany match but it will be a good contest which I take France to win 2-0.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006